Bella Caledonia, Greg Moodie, Named Person, National Collective, Nationalism, Offensive Behaviour (Football) Act, Opinion, Politics, Reverend Stuart Campbell, Satire, Scottish Independence, Scottish National Party, Scottish Nationalism, SNP, Wings Over Scotland
If you had to list five hundred words which described Scottish nationalism at the moment, “fun” probably wouldn’t number amongst them. There is the oppressive conformity of communities which are endlessly organising dreary public meetings and reiterated displays of community feeling. Everybody is very embittered or sentimentally sad about the standoffishness of London, its failure to emote about social injustice, and that oh-so-inconsiderate way in which David Cameron has parked his Trident missiles in Scotland, the uncaring bastard! It is all very lowering.
Luckily, however, we still have the cartoonist Greg Moodie to raise everybody’s spirits. He is, compacted into a single person, Scottish nationalism’s sense of humour. If pompous monarchists can feel relaxed and cool because they have the Royal Variety Performance, Greg Moodie provides much the same function for Scottish nationalists.
At first he was the best artist on National Collective, though it is hard to think of any fainter praise with which to damn somebody. When it looked like an independent Scotland wasn’t happening, and the careerists and professional lobbyists at National Collective couldn’t abandon the ship fast enough, Moodie was safely ensconced on the indistinguishable but more persistent Bella Caledonia. After they had set up the new Scottish nationalist community newsletter, the National, Moodie gravitated in this direction.
But finally he arrived in the world capital of Scottish nationalism: the Somerset town of Bath, from where the Church of England vicar, the Reverend Stuart Campbell, publishes the Wings Over Scotland website. Moodie supplies the images for a weekly cartoon show on Wings called “Moodievision.” The logic behind this residency should be apparent, for Moodie’s wackily-cluttered dayglo collages look undeniably like stained glass windows. No doubt when Campbell is standing in the pulpit on Sunday morning, subjecting the townspeople of Bath to another sermon about the righteousness of small nations, he is shined down upon by stained glass images of Gordon Brown as Godzilla and Alistair Darling as Sam the Eagle from the Muppets.
It is initially pleasant to switch off your brain and bathe it in Moodie’s cartoons. They have the same innocence and competency for farce which you encounter on the Cartoon Network with Wile E Coyote. Yet once you begin to interrogate what you find so funny about them, you discover that they aren’t in fact very funny at all. From the very beginning, they pick the easiest targets and then they consistently go for the easiest joke.
There is such a dazzling dayglo jumble in each frame that you may not have noticed that many of the jumbled items are second-hand. That Alistair Darling resembles Sam the Eagle was first pointed out in the “Lookalikes” letters feature in Private Eye back in 2008. Portraying Alistair Carmichael as a cardboard cut-out is blatantly pinched from the Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell, who portrayed Nick Clegg in the same way throughout the whole of the last UK parliament. Elsewhere, we strain for the lowest hanging fruit. Gordon Brown is a political heavyweight whose best days are in the past, and so yes, his face has been grafted on to the body of Godzilla, a lumbering dinosaur. George Osborne has to naturally look evil, and so Moodie hopes that the Dark Lord of the Sith will do. Actually, the fact that Osborne has remained politically loyal to David Cameron means, in Moodie’s mind, that he qualifies for the cheapest humour of all: sniggering schoolboy homophobia. Henceforth, he is usually eyeing up Cameron’s “muscular buttocks.”
Tellingly, the two politicians who remain unmolested in Moodie’s universe are David Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon. Cameron seems to be physically unchanged from real life – a perplexed headmasterly figure. In what is possibly meant to be a straightforward portrait, Sturgeon is a cool rock chick on the back of a motorbike.
By trashing Scottish Labour almost on a weekly basis, Moodie is ultimately a satirical entomologist, intent upon fixing tiny insects on pins whilst elephants stampede around him unnoticed. There is infinite humbug and hypocrisy throughout Scottish politics, but Moodie departs significantly from the normal standards of satire by exclusively attacking one side.
These cartoons are often surprisingly gentle and even apolitical. With its clownish, brightly coloured characters, “Moodievision” could operate adequately as a cartoon for small children. Depicting Jim Murphy as a cross-eyed robot is just inconsequential abuse and it does not reveal anything immoral in his politics, only his goofiness. When Moodie stumbles over some genuine politics, it is a total disaster. In “Oil: The Scottish Burden,” a cartoon from last August, Alistair Darling, inevitably Muppetised, maintains that oil is a “national tragedy” as he sinks up to his eyebrows in the stuff. Your satirical targets are not meant to walk out of the cartoon, laughing in your face. I suppose it is to Moodie’s credit that, having got it so terminally wrong, he has not fought to eradicate every last trace of this cartoon from the internet. When the floor fell out of the oil price just weeks after Scotland had rejected an oil-bankrolled independence, this had far more slapstick aplomb to it than anything in Moodie’s cartoons from the same period.
You might think that a political party which campaigns noisily for Scotland’s “freedom,” only to then literally jail Scots for singing certain songs, is a hypocrisy which any genuine satirist would give their eye teeth for. But Moodie will not lay a finger on the SNP and the Offensive Behavior (Football) Act. You might consider the SNP’s eagerness to give 16-year-olds the Vote to be somewhat comical in light of the party’s previous belief that they shouldn’t be trusted to buy alcohol until 21. But no, we’re not allowed to nibble at this satirical manna from heaven. What about the “named person” scheme, which is destined to become the largest programme of state surveillance in any democratic country? Isn’t this rather amusing from a party which constantly demands “the freedom to run our own affairs”? No, no it is evidently not…
Perhaps Moodie has a private fund of witty and intelligent things to say about all of this hypocrisy, but to commit it to print would be to endanger his privileged place in the National newspaper, the acclaim he gets on Twitter, that seat in the vicarage tearoom in Bath, and the uncritical welcome which he seemingly receives everywhere throughout the Scottish media. Most of all, however, it would threaten the merchandise. There are the glossy books which are on offer for £20 and, if this is rather a squeeze after the bedroom tax, the tee-shirt is only £12.99 and the collection of badges a mere snip at £6.99!
Please note, though, that I am not accusing Moodie of cynically freeriding on the nationalist bandwagon, or of telling the crowd what they want to hear in order to flog tea towels. Rather, he encapsulates a spiviness which can be found throughout his entire Scottish nationalist social class. This class does not regard the independent or fiscally autonomous nation as a means of securing more freedom and democracy for us, the masses. Instead, they have fenced it off as a lucrative mine which can be quarried for new jobs, exciting new opportunities in politics and culture and the media, and a greater freedom for spivs like themselves. So of course they are uninterested in the more basic freedom of ordinary people to, say, sing whatever song they want to without being arrested.
Imagine that down in England, the Tories had acquired that most paradoxical of ornaments, an establishment satirist. Imagine that there was a leading cartoonist, with their work published in national newspapers and shared widely across Twitter, who incessantly mocked Labour and the SNP, but who only ever portrayed David Cameron flatteringly kitted out as Mick Jagger. Imagine that this cartoonist was scrupulous in making no reference to the authoritarianism of the ruling party. Such a state of affairs would leave us grateful for the supposedly “biased” BBC of more innocent times. Yet in Scotland today, it is entirely normal.